Tears Over Race Punctuate Weekend Meeting of Redistricting Panel


Monday, July 25, 2011 | Two members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission broke down in tears Sunday during intense discussions of racism and favoritism as the commission gave informal approval to new political boundaries after a marathon weekend session.

The tears came as the result of lines proposed for west Los Angeles County congressional districts. Specifically, they involved the African-American community and a criteria commissioners have followed to keep “communities of interest,” especially racial and ethnic groups, together as much as possible. Federal voting rights laws make it illegal to split minority groups to prevent them from electing candidates.

In the complex world of Los Angeles County politics, however, there is actually a better chance that more African-American candidates will be elected if their community of interest is not concentrated in one district, say African-American leaders.

So these leaders and others urged the commission to retain current congressional districts in the general area where African-American candidates had run successfully, even if the percentage of African-Americans in those districts is decreasing as the overall population grows.

M. Andre Parvenu, an African-American and one of the four commissioners not allied with a political party, lives in Culver City in the area under discussion. He urged fellow commissioners not to draw lines that limited the ability of African-American candidates to be elected.

A Monday Los Angeles Times article describes the issue in detail.

However, Stockton homemaker Michelle R. DiGuilio, who is white and not allied with a party, objected to the proposed boundaries that break up African-American voters. She favors a proposal to create three, generally compact districts, one of which would have a large African-American block.

But Parvenu reminded commissioners they’d discussed much of the issue a week before, and he said he couldn’t support a district map that combined most of the area’s African-Americans into a single district.

“We don’t need to be packed into one little area,” he said. “This is Los Angeles,” not the Deep South where African-American voters were deliberately divided into separate districts to minimize the impact of their votes.

Commissioners worried about the time it would take in the final hours of map-drawing to determine the effect of three, more-compact congressional districts in west Los Angeles County.

When a straw vote among commissioners showed little support for revisiting the whole issue, DiGuilio broke into tears. She said she would vote against the entire statewide congressional map because of her opposition to the Los Angeles County districts.

“I can’t vote yes on the maps as a whole [during Friday’s final vote],” DiGuillio said late Sunday afternoon after nearly two days of nonstop meetings.

Norco lawyer Jodie Filkins Webber, who is white and a Republican, said she also couldn’t vote in favor of the entire final map if changes to the Los Angeles County congressional districts are not considered.

After a closed-session break, the commissioners returned to the public meeting and asked technicians to show them how three, more-compact districts would look and what the demographics would be.

Because it takes time to make such changes, the commission turned to other business, then returned to Los Angeles County’s congressional issues.

This time it was Commissioner Connie Galambos Malloy of Oakland, another of the four with no political party alliance, who broke into tears.

Malloy told the other commissioners that her heritage was African-American and Latino but that she was adopted by a white family. Because of her life experiences, she said tearfully, she sees the world “through a multitude of lenses.”

“The only way that you can live that life is not to advocate for one race but to figure out how we can all get along,” said Galambos Malloy, echoing Rodney King’s famous statement in 1992 after he was beaten by Los Angeles police officers.

“To have it insinuated that there is an African-American voting bloc on this commission that is holding this commission hostage is absolutely infuriating,” she said. Such suggestions have been made to her by commission outsiders, she said.

Another commissioner, Democrat Maria Blanco of Los Angeles, said she hadn’t said anything publicly before but had been upset by what appeared to be racist remarks from the public in emails to the commission. Some of those writing the emails said they didn’t want to be included in districts with African-Americans or to be represented by an African-American in Congress.

“A lot of the emails we got were very disturbing to me,” she said. She said the commission received “a lot of email that had a lot of racial overtones.”

In the end, a nine-member majority voted informally to go ahead with the Los Angeles County coastal congressional map that didn’t compress most of the blacks into a single district.

How that will affect the final vote on all of the state’s congressional districts will be known on Friday when the 14-member panel is scheduled to make its final vote.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.


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